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Thursday, September 29, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- Ultimate Fighter Ties Series Low with Another 1.4 Rating
Episode Six of The Ultimate Fighter 2, which debuted this past Monday night, drew a 1.4 overall rating. While anything over a 1.0 rating is generally considered a big hit on cable television, this week's 1.4 rating is tied for the lowest-rated episode from either season of The Ultimate Fighter. The only other weeks that drew overall ratings of 1.4 were Week Four of this season, and the first two weeks of the first season.

This Season's Ratings Compared to Last Season's Ratings
One thing that might be troubling for Spike and Zuffa is the fact that the Neilsen ratings for The Ultimate Fighter have remained largely unchanged over the past few weeks, even though Season Two is now hitting the mid-way point at which Season One's ratings skyrocketed. At this point in Season One, the sixth episode drew a record-high rating of 2.0. On the other hand, the sixth episode of Season Two drew a record-low rating of 1.4.

However, the overall ratings picture is not that much different through six weeks. The first season of The Ultimate Fighter averaged a 1.6 rating through its first six episodes, and the second season of TUF has also averaged a 1.6 rating through its first six episodes.

An average rating of 1.6 is something that keeps popping up if you analyze UFC ratings data for long enough. The average rating that was drawn by the first season of The Ultimate Fighter over the course of its entire 13-week run was also 1.6, as was the average rating for the new episodes of UFC Unleashed that have aired thus far.

Monday Night Football's Ratings Drop Drastically, but TUF's Ratings Remain Unchanged
Monday Night Football on ABC draws heavily from the sports fan and young male demographics that are the target audience of UFC programming on Spike TV, and the Monday Night Football entered the picture as direct competition to TUF starting with Week Four of this season.

In the three weeks before Monday Night Football's season premiere, The Ultimate Fighter averaged an overall rating of 1.7. In the three weeks that it has had to go head-to-head with Monday Night Football, The Ultimate Fighter's average rating has dropped to 1.4.

However, Monday Night Football is far from the only reason that The Ultimate Fighter's ratings have declined from the first couple of weeks. There was a big drop-off in TUF's ratings from Week Two to Week Three (falling from 1.8 to 1.5), despite the fact that Week Three did not go head-to-head with Monday Night Football. This would seem to suggest that some viewers lost interest in the show even before Monday Night Football returned.

Also, this week's rating for TUF was down slightly from last week, despite the fact that the competition it faced from Monday Night Football was nowhere near as formidable. With a blow-out game between the Broncos and Chiefs this week, Monday Night Football's overall rating was 8.4, which is down drastically from the 11.6 rating that it averaged in the first two weeks of its season. So, even though The Ultimate Fighter's chief competitor for the advertiser-coveted young male demographic was down drastically in viewers this week, TUF's ratings did not increase as a result.

The other network TV competition that The Ultimate Fighter faced on Monday night was NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno, which drew an overall rating of 5.1; and CBS' Late Show with David Letterman, which drew an overall rating of 3.4.

With Spike TV now having aired its final WWE program, Spike TV and Zuffa are counting on the idea that they don't need the lead-in from WWE Raw to draw strong ratings. If that is truly the case, then Spike and the UFC should be hoping that this week's lower-than-normal TUF rating has nothing to do with this week's far-lower-than-usual WWE Raw rating.

After averaging a rating in the range of 3.8 to 4.1 for many months, WWE Raw's ratings slipped to an average of 3.5 in the first three weeks of September, and then slipped even further this week to 3.2, which is Raw's lowest non-holiday rating in over two years. This week's episode of WWE Raw was sacrificed in order to create what was essentially a two-hour infomercial for next week's episode of WWE Raw on USA Network, which will be going head-to-head with the UFC on Spike TV.

Positive and Negative Buzz from Week to Week
One question about The Ultimate Fighter's ratings that many readers have asked via e-mail is this: How does the quality of any given episode of TUF effect the ratings from week to week? The answer is that the positive buzz or negative buzz that is generated by a TV show does not generally effect the same week's ratings. Instead, it usually effects the following week's ratings, and this appears to be the case with TUF as well.

For example, let's take the uneventful, boring fight between Rashad Evans and Tom Murphy that was at the end of Episode Five. While some viewers undoubtedly changed the channel while the fight was in progress, television viewing patterns would suggest that those viewers were outnumbered by viewers who stuck around for most or all of the fight, and were generally displeased with the episode, and were far less likely to tune in to subsequent episodes as a result.

Getting viewers to tune in to a show is the biggest barrier for a TV show, in much the same way that getting customers into the store is the biggest barrier for a retailer like Best Buy. If a viewer is displeased with a TV show one week, he or she is far less likely to tune in the following week. If a viewer is very pleased with a TV show one week, that viewer is far more likely to tune in the following week and may also encourage other people to watch the show through word of mouth.

So, a boring fight on Episode Five doesn't really effect the rating for Episode Five all that much, but it could have a big effect on the rating for Episode Six. In much the same way, an exciting fight like Jason Von Flue vs. Jorge Gurgel on Episode Six doesn't really effect the rating for Episode Six all that much, but the buzz that it generates could have a positive impact on the rating for Episode Seven.

This concept passes the muster if you go through the first season of The Ultimate Fighter episode-by-episode and look at how each individual episode's quality tended to either positively or negatively impact the rating for the following episode. The peaks in the ratings came in the weeks after buzzworthy episodes, and the dips in the ratings came in the weeks after shows that had boring fights or were otherwise deemed uneventful.

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